Another Swing and a Miss for Arizona Marijuana Opponents, Another Victory for MMJ Industry

Arizona medical cannabis businesses can exhale: Yet another attempt to sink the state’s MMJ program has failed – utterly and completely.

State Rep. John Kavanagh, a Republican representing Fountain Hills, has abandoned an effort to repeal Arizona’s medical marijuana laws via a ballot measure.

The reason? He couldn’t get enough support from fellow lawmakers to get such a measure in front of voters.

Kavanagh’s failure to repeal the law removes one of the last major threats to the state’s medical marijuana law and should help bring a bit more stability to Arizona’s medical cannabis industry, which has faced scores of challenges in its short history. Owners of dispensaries, grow sites and ancillary medical marijuana companies, as well as those planning to launch such businesses, no longer have to worry that the whole program could be shut down. At least for now.

That should help the industry reach its full potential as dozens of additional dispensaries open in the coming months.

Kavanagh blamed the lack of support for a repeal on politics. He told Capitol Media Services that the “majority” of Republican lawmakers in the state are against medical marijuana but worry that putting a cannabis measure on the ballot would lead to a larger-that-expected turnout of Democrats in the next election, which could hurt GOP candidates and issues in general.

In the end, it doesn’t even matter what the majority of lawmakers think: It’s the voters who would have had the final say anyway, and by most indications there are many more locals who support MMJ than oppose it. A poll conducted earlier this year by a political consulting firm chosen by Kavanagh himself even found that 55% of likely voters back the state’s current medical marijuana law vs. 39% who oppose it. In the political world, that’s a knock-out margin. A separate poll conducted several weeks earlier found support at nearly 60%.

Yet Kavanagh, like other lawmakers and officials in the state before him, seemed dead-set on scuttling Arizona’s MMJ law – displaying a fair amount of hubris along the way. The state’s governor implemented a similar strategy, putting the MMJ program on hold for a year and taking the issue to the courts in a bid to sink the industry completely. After each of her efforts failed, the governor finally relented and grudgingly agreed to move forward with the dispensary program. Other officials, including Maricopa County Attorney General Bill Montgomery, have failed to stop dispensaries from opening as well.

The repeated attempts by Arizona lawmakers and elected officials to challenge a law enacted by voters underscores the deep resistance to MMJ that remains in some circles. It also shows just how out-of-touch these officials are with the people they represent.

Meanwhile, the industry continues to grow. Nearly two dozen dispensaries have opened in Arizona over the past six months, and dozens more are hoping to launch before a state-imposed deadline kicks in later this summer. Dispensaries that received permission from the state to move forward must get up and running by August 2013 or they’ll lose the right to open at all.

That deadline is creating some major headaches. Many entrepreneurs delayed their plans to start a dispensary because of the various challenges to the state law, fearful of devoting too much time and money to the endeavor if the whole thing could implode anyway. They are no way behind in the startup process and could miss the deadline.

With most major challenges to the state’s MMJ law now removed, eleven dispensary groups have sued Arizona in an effort to get more time to launch.